Part 1: Farewell to Karanja at St Jean de Losne April 2023
Boating in France is a dream for many, and it was Roy who made it an unforgettable reality for us. Someone said that there are two happy days in a boat-owner’s life: the day you buy it, and the day you sell it. That last bit may often be true, but not so much for us.
I wish I could be funny or lighthearted about it, but I can’t. It’s hard to explain why we decided to sell Karanja. Come to think of it, it’s also not easy to understand what happened to the world in the past three years. The short answer is that the COVID era changed our outlook in fundamental ways.
Forgetting deeper matters, just consider the practicalities. For three summers in a row, we hadn’t been able to get to France. We were incredibly lucky that our friend David Piper – Simon Piper’s dad – agreed last year to navigate Karanja from what had been her home port in Moissac, in the South of France, north to St Jean-de-Losne, where Piper Boats has a base on the Canal de la Bourgogne, and Simon could do some necessary maintenance and keep an eye on her.
So, that was three years of absence, 2020 to 2022. In those three years, we had planned to make our way to Paris, spend a month moored in the Arsenal becoming insufferably au fait with the museum and art gallery scene. (That’s me. Roy was going to become insufferably au fait with whatever Netflix series caught his fancy.) After leaving Karanja to winter in the Arsenal, we would have returned the next summer season to explore the Canal de Nivernais, maybe go north to discover the waterways of the Netherlands; there was so much to do.
Contemplating Year 4, 2023, we could not see our way clear to spending the cruising season in France. Four years is a long time, and we’d both experienced a change of heart.
We’ve been building a home in Iluka, Western Australia – or rather having it built for us at a glacial pace. And Roy strongly feels the need to be there to make sure there are no cock-ups on the odd occasion when something happens on site. (From our experience since the foundation slab was poured way back in May 2020, he has a good point.)
So, even these three weeks in France visiting family & friends feels like stolen time. Once the house has been completed, we’ll be able to travel more freely again. But now we were here here to clear our personal effects off Karanja before she was handed over to her new owners.
Roy insisted that we could pick up a hire car at Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Paris airport immediately after a 13.5-hour flight from Singapore, and drive straight down to St Jean-de-Losne. I worried about jet-lagged tiredness and the traffic. But he was right, for once. (OK, maybe twice. OK, as usual.)
CDG is beyond the Paris périphérique, and it was around 9.30am on a Friday that we set off in a south-easterly direction in the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk hybrid that Avis provided.
Several coffee stops later – including a blissful first jambon-beurre (ham and butter) baguette from an aire (autoroute/motorway stop), we arrived at Simon Piper’s lovely house on the Quai de la Canal de Bourgogne. Situated where the spectacular Saône River and the Canal de Bourgogne meet, St Jean-de-Losne is an important boating centre, with two big marinas run respectively by Blanquart and the generally despised H2O.
We’d been here before, of course. First on a driving holiday in June 2016, then for a whole week on Karanja in July 2017, waiting for a spare part to be delivered and fitted.
So I won’t go into detail here about SJDL. Nothing much had changed, except that Simon’s huge house was now available for lucky guests like us to stay at. Over the past years, he and his guys have done a great job of restoring this old beauty, especially its open-plan kitchen, dining and living room. Many a party has been held at the long dining-table.
Though it was painful, it could have been worse. Two-and-a-half days was enough to sort through our stuff, pack what we wanted to take home – for me, my late mother Sheila’s Chinese crockery set, a few books, plus the silk carpet I won at auction at Oriental Carpets in Singapore 20 years ago. Funny expression, that: “won at auction”. (Especially as I almost certainly paid over the odds for it after a few glasses of free wine.)
For the more sentimental Roy, his picture of the BI ship Karanja that he sailed on, and where it all started; old family photos; half-a-dozen brand new Karanja caps; plus whatever else his hoarding heart could find room for. Fortunately, most of the clothes he’d left on board were now well oversized for him, so they went to charity.
He’d been planning this for months, and came prepared with empty bags and suitcases, plus bubble wrap and other packaging materials. (Luckily, as we’re still Singapore Airlines PPS Solitaire members, we have an allowance of 70kg each – which proved just about enough.)
Simon gets cooking
On Monday night, Simon cooked dinner for all the Piper family already in port: us; Niall and Lynette on Karinya, George and Béatrice on their brand-new Triton, Lesley and Stuart on Calliope, Ursula and Roberto on La Fenice (which translates as The Phoenix – nice!) plus the Piper team from the Stoke-on-Trent boatyard – Josh, Phil and Vinnie. All three helped to build Karanja, so we have soft spots for them.
The very next day, summer seemed to arrive… or at least spring. Back at the port, T-shirts had replaced heavy jackets, and Vinnie was even sporting shorts.
Part 2: Salon Fluviale weekend 29-30 April 2023
This two-day boating festival is an annual event. It’s not just a Piper Boats thing, like the one at Henley-on-Thames, but a long-standing riverine bash featuring food and beer stalls plus a line of tents harbouring all sorts of Boaty-MacBoatface service providers.
As at Henley, the Piper boats were open on both Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm for prospective buyers (or just fender-kickers) to be shown around by their owners.
Piper boats were arriving steadily, including our American friends Carolyn and Les who’d cruised down from their winter mooring at Auxerre on Tesserae, English Rose and husband Ade on Sirius, Calliope with Stuart and Lesley, suffering from a broken foot; Australians Tracy and Shaun on Ascension (they’ve ordered a brand new Piper!); Parisian Patricia & Eric on Pépite, Americans Paul and Lesley from Santa Fé, visiting his identical twin brother Patrick and Mary-Lyn who live on Lucie.
And, of course, the new owners of Karanja: Masako and Yoshi Mine, plus Toshi, the son of one of their friends. They’d moved in, and the Japanese flag was flying.
An impressive total of 18 Pipers in all!
All 18 vessels were triple-banked against the quay in front of the house, and a beautiful sight to see. I looked down at the fancy manicure that so clearly marked me as a non-boater, and felt a horrible twinge of regret at no longer being part of this disparate yet amazingly united community. Saying goodbye was never going to be easy.
On Friday evening, Simon and Andrea Piper hosted an apéro (cocktails) session at the house, amazingly catered for by some of the Piper boatwomen – so, of course, it turned into an apéro dinatoire (cocktails and snacks that morph into dinner as there was so much food!).
On Saturday night, they hosted a pizza evening on the front terrace, where two guys manned two pizza ovens churning out endless, generously fromage-y pizzas that were delicious.
Again, everyone brought a salad, a dessert or some such accompaniment.
Before all that, Simon, Roy I and descended on Karanja’s new owners with a bottle each of sake and champagne. They weren’t expecting us, but Masako and Yoshi made us welcome.
The teenager with them, Toshi, is the son of a friend they’d promised to “take with them somewhere”. Lucky lad!